Maggie Hamilton

Issue: November/December 2017

The Oxford Handbook Of Choral Pedagogy – Book Review

4:05, 8th November 2017

The Oxford Handbook Of Choral Pedagogy
Frank Abrahams and Paul D. Head (eds.)
New York: Oxford University Press, 2017; xx and 545pp., index and bibliography, £112.50

This handsomely produced and substantial volume appears at a time of immense change in all aspects of choral education. The ground is shifting, and editors Frank Abrahams and Paul D. Head have assembled a team of over 30 expert contributors – academics, teachers and practitioners, many based in the United States – to guide us through the changing landscape. In their introduction, the editors attempt to define what choral pedagogy is and set the context for what is to follow. It seems unlikely that, in normal circumstances, anyone would read this handbook from cover to cover, but the editors neatly lay out the territory that lies ahead, and it’s easy enough to find what might be of specific interest.

The volume is divided into two broad sections – ‘Theory’ and ‘Practice’ – and there is an undercurrent of dialogue across the volume between these two areas. After all, one feeds the other and vice versa. ‘Theory’ subdivides into five chapters gathered under the heading ‘Challenging Traditional Paradigms’, of which Abrahams’s ‘Critical Pedagogy as Choral Pedagogy’ offers new, even radical, ways for the conductor and his choir to approach rehearsals. He concludes that adopting critical pedagogy as the framework for decision-making yields positive results, and can include ‘the ability to create meaningful teaching and learning experiences, and the attainment of agency’. The ‘Theory’ section continues with six chapters under the banner ‘Construction of Identity and Meaning’, with two enlightening and well-considered chapters on the construction of identity in boys’ and girls’ choirs; and a final four contributions encompassing ‘World Perspectives’ by examining UK, South African, South American and German practice.

The second half of this comprehensive volume concerns ‘Practice’, sub-divided into three parts comprising ‘Repertoire as Pedagogy’, ‘Teaching and Conducting Diverse Populations’ and ‘Choral Pedagogy and the Voice’. Here a broad range of issues are addressed, including repertoire, choral administration and conducting gestures. Contemporary society is reflected in important contributions on community choirs, LGBTQ choral pedagogy, and black gospel choral music and issues of identity, race and religion.

This book undoubtedly makes a major contribution to choral pedagogy. Uncompromisingly academic in tone and intent, there is much to ponder here. Often challenging accepted notions, this fine handbook is an excellent marker for where choral pedagogy is right now. Where the practice will be, say, in 50 years’ time, no one can know. But Abrahams and Head’s volume will surely remain an essential reference tool for at least the next half century.



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